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Cape League: West Division preview

First baseman JJ Matijevic plays for Arizona University during the college season and the Falmouth Commodores come summer. / Photo by SportsPixe
05/03/2016 6:14 PM

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     The West Division is entering the 2016 Cape Cod Baseball League season on a mission to bring the championship title back. The West hasn’t won the title since the 2013 season, when the Cotuit Kettleers defeated the Orleans Firebirds, 6-1, to complete a two-game sweep. The five West teams are focused on the new season, determined to regain their position at the top.

     The Hyannis Harbor Hawks and their general manager, Tino DiGiovanni, are back, looking for redemption from their crushing 8-1 loss to the Y-D Red Sox in the 2015 championship game. The Harbor Hawks won the West Division title with a 24-19 record before going 5-2 in the playoffs.

     The team’s lone returning player is shortstop Tristan Hildebrandt, a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton. He batted .250 last summer and was one of the defensive leaders on the team, playing errorless ball in 99 innings. During the 2015 playoffs Hildebrandt batted .280 with five RBIs.

     The Falmouth Commodores are back with a strong core of returning players and a talented group of new faces. Under the leadership of general manager Eric Zmuda and manager Jeff Trundy, the Commodores look to improve upon their 2015 season, in which they finished 16-27 but still came within a final-game loss in extra innings of making the playoffs. Among the returning players is all-star first baseman JJ Matijevic (Arizona), who ended the season with a 21-game hitting streak and a batting average of .333, third highest in the league.

     Also back for a second summer is catcher and first baseman Evan Skoug (TCU). Skoug scored 25 runs and hit .258 with the Commodores. He came to Falmouth after helping lead the Horned Frogs to the 2015 College World Series.

     Returning third baseman Shane Benes (Missouri) has shown perseverance since coming back from a torn ACL last year. Benes hit four home runs in 67 at-bats last summer and had 11 RBIs.

     Other returning Commodores include Turner Larkins (Texas A&M), Tristan Gray (Rice), Cobi Johnson (Florida State), Bo Tucker (Georgia) and Bryce Montes De Oca (Missouri).

     Falmouth also boasts an impressive group of newcomers, including freshmen Deacon Liput and Brady Singer from Florida, utility man Luken Baker of TCU, and third baseman Jake Burger from Missouri State.

Jeren Kendall is a center fielder from Vanderbilt who is returning to the Cotuit Kettleers. / Photo by SportsPixe

     After finishing 17-27 last season, the Cotuit Kettleers look to push further into the playoffs with a crop of mostly new faces. The Kettleers fell to the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in two games in last year’s playoffs.

     One promising returner for Cotuit is center fielder Jeren Kendall, who was off to a strong start this summer at Vanderbilt. Last summer Kendall batted .253 in 20 games after helping to lead Vanderbilt to the championship finals in the 2015 College World Series. He will be joined in Cotuit by fellow Vanderbilt teammates Alonzo Jones, a second baseman, and pitchers Matt Ruppenthal and Kyle Wright.

     Catcher Tim Susnara (Oregon) is the second player returning to Cotuit in 2016, looking to improve on last year’s .176 average and 11 RBIs in 33 games.

     One of the many newcomers who was enjoying an impressive collegiate season this spring is Jake Bivens (Michigan), the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

     The combination of new and experienced players shows strong potential for success at Lowell Park this season.

Corey Julks is returning to the Bourne Braves mound from the University of Houston. / Photo by SportsPixe

     The Bourne Braves finished the regular season with a 22-20 record last summer, securing the No. 2 two spot in the West Division playoffs before losing to Hyannis. Harvey Shapiro is back at the helm, leading the team in his 13th season as manager.

     Also returning is Brendan McKay (Louisville), who has compiled a long list of honors, including the 2015 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year award. McKay joined the Braves in mid-season last year after earning the chance to play for Team USA, a path he will follow again this summer. McKay was posting an impressive .306 batting average while also managing a sharp 2.09 ERA on the mound this spring for Louisville.

     The Braves’ secure another returnee from the powerful 2015 bullpen in Doug Norman (LSU), who was posting a 3.68 ERA in 12 appearances over 14.2 innings this spring for the Tigers. The Braves’ final returning player is rising junior Corey Julks, who ended his freshman season with a .302 average for the Houston Cougars. He batted .279 average with the Braves last season.

     The Wareham Gatemen head into the 2016 campaign with newly named head coach Jerry Weinstein, along with an almost entirely new team looking to clinch a playoff spot for a second consecutive year.

      Weinstein spent the past nine years with the Colorado Rockies, last season as the team’s developmental supervisor. He replaces Cooper Ferris, who led the Gatemen to three Cape League championships in his 15 years at the helm.

     Wareham went 17-25 last year before losing in two straight games to Bourne in the playoffs.

     An entirely new team is set to create a name for the Gatemen in the 2016 season, with the exception of shortstop Preston Grand Pre (UCal Berkeley). Grand Pre was a temporary player for the Gatemen last summer before proving himself and securing a permanent spot on Wareham’s roster.